Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.


Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

Photo by: Giordano Cipriani

Giordano Cipriani

No, This Weird Shark Species is Not a Spongebob Character

By: Lucy Sherriff

Is it a lumpy carpet? A steamrolled toad? A character from Spongebob Squarepants? Nope, it’s the tasseled wobbegong shark.

February 07, 2022

This tasseled specimen is actually one of 12 species of wobbegong sharks, a name deriving from the Australian Aboriginal language meaning “shaggy beard”. The sharks are known as “carpet sharks” due to the ornate, symmetrical patterns on their bodies and multitude of colors.

Up until fairly recently, scientists found it impossible to differentiate between a small wobbegong species and a juvenile of a larger species, but thanks to DNA sequencing and other new technologies, they were able to identify 12 species, including the floral banded wobbegong and the dwarf spotted wobbegong.

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.


Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

Photo by: Giordano Cipriani

Giordano Cipriani

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

They’re well camouflaged too, having small whisker lobes that act as sensory barbs. The tasseled wobbegong is perhaps the most infamous of all the species, thanks to its intricate, elaborately branched lobes.

The sharks are found in shallow, tropical waters, primarily around Australia and Indonesia, although one species - the aptly named Japanese wobbegong - can be found in Japan’s waters. They’re bottom-dwelling sharks, spending most of their time on the seabed, with most growing up to 4.1ft. The Japanese species, however, can reach a huge 9.8ft. The head of a wobbegong is amazingly wider across than it is long, helping it consume whatever prey it can fit inside its mouth – and sometimes even prey that it can’t.

The sharks eat all sorts of fishes – and occasionally other sharks too. In 2011, two scientists photographed a wobbegong eating a bamboo shark…whole. “During the 30-min observation period,” the scientists observed in a paper they released the following year, “neither shark moved position and the wobbegong did not further ingest the bamboo shark. We assume that it would have taken at least several more hours for the wobbegong to completely consume the bamboo shark.”

Swimming with pilot fish Raja Ampat


Wobbegong shark swimming with pilot fish.

Photo by: AHDesignConcepts


Wobbegong shark swimming with pilot fish.

The species’ ability to dislocate its jaw and sharp, rearward-pointing teeth mean wobbegongs can grasp prey that is relatively large compared to its body size, and swallow them whole. They’re mostly ambush predators, lying camouflaged in wait for smaller fish to swim too close. As far as sharks go, they are relatively lazy, staying stationary for hours at a time. In order to stay alive when they’re hanging out on the seafloor, they pump water over their gills using their cheek muscles in order to keep their blood oxygenated.

They’re not generally fished, but local populations have taken a hit in their numbers from accidental bycatch. Ocean scientists consider habitat loss of coral reefs to be more of a threat to the species, although current populations of the gulf wobbegong are thought to be largely stable – there are not enough data records to define any population trends for the other 11 species.

Although they are not considered dangerous to humans, there have been records of attacks on swimmers and scuba divers who have ventured too close to them, and although none have been fatal, they can be difficult to remove once they latch onto skin due to their teeth.

Next Up

New Walking Shark Species Discovered

A shark that walks, evolutionary conundrums, temperature changes, and tectonic shifts lead scientists to discover four new species of sharks.Watch Island of the Walking Sharks on Wednesday, July 27 at 8:00pm ET/PT on Discovery and stream it on discovery+.

Meet the Shark Species at Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium’s expert animal team cares for several shark species, from the great hammerhead and tiger sharks, to the largest in the sea - whale sharks (yes, they are a part of the shark family). Some of these species are apex predators essential to our ocean’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, humans are the number one threat to their populations.

Shark Week: The Podcast – How Sharks Are Built to Hunt

Dive in with marine biologist and shark expert Luke Tipple as he shares amazing facts about sharks' super-hero senses and dispels common shark myths.

Shark Week: The Podcast is Splashing into the Scene

Bring the magic of Shark Week to your ears with this brand-new podcast.Shark Week: The Podcast launches July 18th on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you listen to podcasts.And get your heart pumping for Shark Week, starting July 24 on Discovery and discovery+.

Rare Baby Ghost Shark Discovered Off New Zealand Coast

Scientists hope the ‘very rare’ finding will fill in research gaps about the elusive species.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How To Have A Career in Shark Science

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple tackles the question “How can I work with sharks?” alongside two experts in the field – and their answers are not always the obvious ones. Luke is joined first by Kelly Link, Associate Curator of the Georgia Aquarium who talks about what it’s like to be an aquarist, how it differs from field work, and how to get yourself noticed. The second guest is Dr. Neil Hammerschlag who goes into detail on what it takes to become a prominent scientist, and what other paths you can take if a PhD isn’t for you. And at the end, researcher Sierra stops by to tell us about the world’s smallest shark.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Shipwrecked & Surrounded by Sharks

This week, we do things a little differently, as Shark Week’s Luke Tipple invites Adventure Aaron into the podcast studio to talk about his incredible near-death experience on the open water. Adventure Aaron gets into what it takes to circumnavigate the world in an ocean rowboat, what it’s like to stare eye-to-eye with an oceanic white tip that probably wants you for lunch, and everything else that happened to him when his boat was capsized, and he was lost by himself at sea.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Do You Have the Guts to Be a Shark Handler?

Host Luke Tipple welcomes a pair of divers – Leigh Cobb and Josh Eccles – who have taken their passion for sharks and turned it into a dangerous career. They explore what it takes to swim with sharks for a living, then go into common myths and facts on what to do in the open water – if you ever come face to face with a shark. Plus, our researcher Sierra drops by with a new species of shark discovered in the freezing depths of the ocean.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Did a Shark Encounter Survivor Become an Advocate for Their Protection?

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple welcomes professional photographer Mike Coots, who lost his leg to a tiger shark attack when he was only 18. But after his horrific injury, he came to love sharks, and became a lifelong advocate for their safety. Luke and Mike discuss his career, his love for photographing sharks, and how to positively approach the big life-changing moments that can happen to any of us.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Many Sharks Are Yet to Be Discovered?

Luke Tipple is joined by Shark Week host and all-around adventurer Forrest Galante. They discuss his upcoming special Alien Sharks: South Africa, Forrest’s remarkable talent for finding creatures once believed to be extinct, and how many shark species may still be unknown. Then, our researcher Sierra stops by to tell us about the world’s most prehistoric shark.

Related To: